In her debut fiction collection, Krys Lee writes with the confidence of an experienced observer of human behavior. Her tales of heartbreak and dissolution illustrate the effects of the last half-century of Korean history on the microcosm of the family structure.
"DRIFTING HOUSE is essential reading for 2012 --- for the lover of literature and for anyone with an eye on the future of publishing."
Lee is deeply aware of the ways in which our national affiliations shape our individual identities. She relates aspects of Korean culture through the mannerisms and personalities of her characters: self-restraint, formality, the social expectations of women. And yet her characters are anything but archetypal. These are characters who get inside your head and stay there: men and women who struggle under the weight of their memories; children who grow up too quickly and understand too much. You know these people, and yet they keep their secrets: they are at once familiar and enigmatic, and therefore, utterly captivating. Which is also why their failings and their quests for redemption feel so heart-stoppingly personal.
In “The Pastor’s Son,” a former soldier’s new faith cannot save him from the brutality of his own broken character. In “The Goose Father,” a young dreamer releases an older man from the repressed nightmare of his socially correct life. Lee reaches her peak in “A Small Sorrow,” a gripping story of an artist who finds a new muse in her husband’s mistress. Lee’s characters are fleshed out right down to the fingernails. You don’t want to stop reading until you find out what will become of them. You have a feeling that if you keep going, your own fate might emerge.
Lee’s style is meticulous and only occasionally overburdened. Her metaphors alight beautifully on the page, opening up in the mind like ideas in full bloom. She loses her stride, however, in the last two stories. Part of Lee’s charm is her titillating play between the subtle and the dramatic. “The Believer” and “Beautiful Women” seem to have lost this balance, and the characters falter, falling beyond the reader’s reach.
Do not expect lightness or humor from this collection. Lee has a story to tell, a culture to elucidate, a brokenness to convey, and she is not one to waste time. Still, DRIFTING HOUSE is essential reading for 2012 --- for the lover of literature and for anyone with an eye on the future of publishing. I will be eagerly awaiting a full-length novel from this courageous new talent. Make no mistake: Krys Lee is here to stay.
Reviewed by Shelby Wardlaw on March 2, 2012